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June 8, 2004 > Centerville Justices

Centerville Justices

Centerville was a very young village when Alameda County was formed in 1853, but already a number of capable leaders lived there. Some of these leaders were trained lawyers who had licenses issued by Eastern states.

William H. Combs was living in Centerville when he was elected to be the first district attorney of the new county. The Alameda County Court of Sessions studied his Indiana license and admitted him as the "Attorney and Counsellor of Court." Combs joined with Noble Hamilton to form the firm of Combs and Noble, probably the first law firm in the new county. Noble soon appeared as attorney for J. J. Vallejo presenting a petition for a public highway.

Captain George Bond came to Centerville in 1852 where he became a prominent storekeeper and community developer. He was appointed Centerville's second postmaster and reportedly delivered letters from boxes set up on a wall of his store. We don't know if the captain had any legal training, but he was listed as the Justice of Peace in an 1867 business directory.

John J. Riser was a volunteer in the Mormon Battalion that marched overland to California in 1846. He mined for a while but settled on 85 acres near Centerville in 1854 and continued to farm and practice law until his death in 1904.

Thomas C. Huxley came to Washington Township in 1875. He established his home and office at Centerville. His yard was famous for its immense pepper trees. He was the only attorney listed in the 1879 business directory and was recognized as one of the most careful lawyers in Alameda County.

Benjamin Mickle was a graduate of Cumberland University in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to California to practice law in Hanford. His failing health and need for a new climate required him to move to Centerville in January 1894. Here he farmed and continued his law practice. He served as Justice of the Peace from 1922 to 1926 and was recognized by the authors of The History of Washington Township as one of the "counselors of men."

Samuel Sandholdt was born in Denmark and came to Washington Township in 1869. He was very active in business, insurance and real estate. He served as Justice of the Peace from 1898 to 1910 and was honored as a counselor and community leader. The Centerville court was usually a calm routine operation. Things were so calm in 1910 that it was suggested that Judge Sandholdt move his office to Niles "to be nearer the busy section."

Dr. Lorenzo Yates was reported to be the first dentist at Centerville, but he was better known for his scientific collections and investigations. He recorded geological facts and wrote several important scientific books. He also served as a Centerville Justice of the Peace for several years.

Centerville got a new court building soon after the Niles building was erected in 1915. The Centerville building was one story with a concrete front and a tiled roof and erected on the site of the old court room. The plans were prepared by Justice of the Peace, John G. Mattos.

John G. Mattos was born in the Azores in 1864 and came to Centerville with his family in 1879. He became a notary public in 1889. He was admitted to the practice of law in 1897 and maintained an office in Centerville and San Francisco. He had a huge desk that was usually covered with piles of papers and was the attorney, advisor, and trusted friend of many local people.

He was elected to California State Assembly in 1900, served on the Centerville School Board for 35 years and was appointed appraiser of the Port of San Francisco and to the Board of Trustees of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind School in Berkely. John G. Mattos School, Mattos Drive, and Mattos Court were named in his honor. Mattos retired from active practice in 1931 because of ill health. Judge Norris moved into his Centerville offices and carried on the work in many ways.

Allen G. Norris was a graduate of local schools and a pole vault champion at U.C. Berkeley. He received his law degree in 1925 and served as justice of the Centerville Court from 1927 until he was appointed to the Alameda County Superior Court in 1953. He was a leader of many community groups and perennial speaker and master of ceremonies. He was called "the most popular man in public life in Washington Township."

The Centerville courtroom was gutted by fire in August 1931. The contents including benches, desks, old dockets, justice stationary, fixtures and a set of law books placed there the day before were completely destroyed. Records kept separately in the office of Judge Norris were unharmed.

The Township Register reported, "The Centerville Justice Court, presided over by Judge Allen G. Norris, will be held for the next few days in Norris' new office building. It will take approximately a month to repair the court room damaged by fire last Friday. Court will again be held there when the repairs are finished."

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors chose a site on Fremont Avenue in 1950 for a new county building. The Niles and Centerville courts were eventually consolidated here, and Centerville became the legal center of Washington Township.

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